Location: Ontario

Karen Singleton Caught Between a Rock and a Paint Brush

Karen Singleton Caught Between a Rock and a Paint Brush

The world weighs heavy upon her shoulders but not in the way you probably think I mean. She is not influenced by the media or stuck in the day to day grind that most people face. As a matter of fact she chooses to live simply so that she can have fulfillment and follow her passion. Karen Singleton is a painter whose life and life’s passion is built from along the shore of Lake Superior in Batchawana Bay. Her time is spent scouring the shoreline just outside her back door in search of rocks. Rocks are what fills her days, her pockets and her studio where she paints incredible portraits of animals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and people upon them.

Karen Singleton in her backyard on Batchawana Bay, Lake Superior, Ontario

Karen Singleton in her backyard on Batchawana Bay, Lake Superior, Ontario

Click the thumbnails to view a larger image.

At a very early age it was quite apparent that Karen had an innate ability to draw and paint. Evidently, this was what she set out to do but because of different circumstances with the art school she attended her enthusiasm dwindled and she found herself on a different creative path. Still, she always found time to paint but rocks weren’t part of the equation at the time. Then one day an accident left Karen temporarily without the use of her arms and unable to continue with her career in fashion design. It turns out that painting was an excellent form of physical therapy for Karen, and so this is when she began to paint on rocks. Not only was collecting them a great way to strengthen her arm, they were also easier to paint because she could hold the stone in the palm of one hand while resting her painting hand on the table. At this point she had no idea painting portraits on rocks would turn out to be a life long career but then fate paid Karen a little visit. A friend fell in love with her rock paintings and asked if she could decorate her restaurant with a few. Unbenownst to Karen, her friend sold them and then was back asking for more. The rest is history and she has been at it ever since.


Karen’s portraits are truly special. The rocks are hand selected from where she lives and each one is chosen for its unique colouration and pattern. She told us that intuitively she knows which rocks will make the best canvas but it is always a nice little surprise to slice one open and discover it wasn’t at all what she expected. Each rock is carefully prepared before the first brush stroke ever finds its mark. Karen never rushes an idea for a new painting. She says if someone requests a rabbit portrait from her on a particular day she may or may not have one. I take that to mean that she doesn’t force herself upon creativity or the rocks. They, along with her daily experiences, tell her what animal will be painted on its face. It is the creative process that guides her to an idea and she in turn is the force that delivers it to it’s physical form.



Although Karen has been using Lake Superior stone as her canvas for many years, painting on rocks does have its limitations. For instance, the rock she chooses can only be of a certain size or less due to the obvious weight issue. Recently Karen has found her way back to canvas and is enjoying the freedom to spread her creative wings a little further.

Ellen Van Laar… with Superior Connections!

Ellen Van Laar… with Superior Connections!

Lake Superior; there are no mincing words here as this enormous body of water is the largest in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume! It’s storms are legendary, as are the count of ships and lives it has claimed. The Ojibwe refer to it as Gichigami, or “big water,” and has been cited in song by Gordon Lightfoot and poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We too had witnessed it’s hugeness, traveling for nine hours along what had amounted to less than half the perimeter of this vast expanse of water. It also happens to be the backyard and playground to painter, writer and musician Ellen Van Laar whose home is a stone’s throw to the lake and her, both a spectator and participant to the weather, seasons and mysteries that this indomitable lake brings.

Ellen at her Lake Superior backyard

Ellen at her Lake Superior backyard

Ellen moved to Coppermine Point because she loves the lake. Once there she developed a compulsion to paint. The areas along the water have a powerful allure because of the natural, historical, mythical and native traditions and stories characteristic of the area, and so she set out to illustrate her perspective of the interrelationships that exist there. Her abstract representations of the water and shore in her paintings pay homage to these elements. Her day-to-day life and artwork are not two separate entities; they mingle as a collaboration of her senses which take in her natural surroundings and are expressed outward onto her canvas. From her physical interaction with the world around her to the visual stimuli captured through the lenses of her eyes and camera, Ellen’s paintings depict the connectivity she has to the world around her and the recognition of the different moods captured within the trees, rocks, water and weather. This awareness of her senses is a passion that she loves to explore and share with others, and so she has opened up a retreat center, Arts and Adventure, where those also searching for that awareness can nurture their senses and learn from Ellen’s insights.

Global Warming Dragon+

Global Warming Dragon+

One example of Ellen bringing a legend to life is through the mythological Misshepezhieu. Otherwise known as “the spirit of the water,” it is a mythical sea creature (or is it?) that in essence signifies the mightiness and mystery of nature, for some an entity of physical shape such as the native pictograph drawings, and for others it is the lake and water itself. It sometimes plays protector and gives life, while other times it plays the punisher and takes it away. It is therefore a force to be respected for it to remain benevolent, but disregard it’s power and you will summon it’s fury. From this legend Ellen has created a storyboard called “Mitch the Dragon”, each one with a picture and rhyme chronicling Mitch’s adventures as he meets different animals and reacts in varying ways to them. There are also family discussion questions to be discussed with your own children or in a classroom setting that are meant to examine our relationships to animals and each other. Ellen notes that “the past is alive in the present,” referring to the fact that the lessons, legends and symbols of history and mythology can also be applied to the present, not just something to be studied as the past. Mitch the Dragon is a perfect example of that; children learning of the local historical legends while deriving present world insight and introspection. What a wonderful idea!

View a sampling below of Ellen’s storyboard with “Mitch the Dragon” Click to enlarge.

Sand River - Mouth

Sand River – Mouth

Enjoy our interview with Ellen and feel free to leave a comment below!

The Ancestors are Arranging Things by Noreen Kruzich

The Ancestors are Arranging Things by Noreen Kruzich

I have to admit, after reading the last word of the last sentence of the last page of the book The Ancestors are Arranging Things by Noreen Kruzich and meeting Noreen in person, I find myself at a loss for words for this particular blog. It is not because there are no words that come to mind; I am sure I could come up with all kinds of energetic sentences and paragraphs. It is more the question of how do I bring to light the seriousness of Noreen’s seven year journey and one she continues to this day. Ironically, her book is just as relevant and important today, not only from a historical point of view but also for the environmental challenges we face. As I was reading The Ancestors are Arranging Things I couldn’t help but think that history is repeating itself in Canada right now! The only difference is that all of us, not just the First Nations people, are facing a loss so great it is irreparable. The Canadian government has set fire to the laws that protect our land, air and water and this is a direct violation to our own health and well being. Noreen’s book is timely. We need to stand up and speak out and show we will be Idle No More. The question is will it be different this time?

Back in 2004 Noreen Kruzich was a journalist working on an unrelated story when synchronicity crossed her path and she found herself face to face with a story that was never told but needed to be, and Noreen was the voice to tell it. In summary, when Europeans first came to North America to colonize the land they were greeted by the people that already called this continent their home. These people had a relationship with the land that transcended beyond the word “resources”. They understood that the earth was the giver of life and must be cherished and respected. They were a nomadic people that moved with the animals, hunting and gathering for their families. When the Europeans showed up their vision of the land was drastically different. They saw wealth and riches and a land to be conquered.

Noreen Kruzich holding a Native drum with totemic signatures of Algonkin and Nipissing chiefs.

Noreen Kruzich holding a Native drum with totemic signatures of Algonkin and Nipissing chiefs.

Noreen spent seven years researching a particular time in history for the Algonkin and Nipissing people of Ontario. The protagonists were two chiefs, one a father and one a son. These men spent their entire lives, over 100 years combined, trying to secure a range of land for their people so that they could continue to feed their families. Even back in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds you could hang yourself on the bureaucratic red tape it was so long, and in fact a forgotten nation of people did just that despite the perserverance of Chief Pinesi and his son Chief Kigonz. In one instance it took thirty four years for a reply from the government to their request for rightful land ownership. The answer was NO.

When Gary and I met with Noreen, I could see that her book was more than words written on a page for her. The impression I got was that her research actually put her there, standing along side both these great men and wanting desparately to change history. I have great admiration for Noreen for taking on such a research behemouth; lost information, no information, and decendants that so long ago had forgotten who they were. So many people would have left sleeping dogs lie and said things like “that’s too bad” or “I’m sorry to hear that” and carried on with their day to day. In fact, Noreen expressed she would gladly spend another seven years setting things right. Almost four hundred years later Chief Pinesi and Chief Kigonz are speaking again on behalf of their people through Noreen and their decendants. The ancestors truly are arranging things. Here’s hoping that the rest of us pay attention this time.

Noreen spends her days in a rural setting just outside of Ottawa in a place called Clayton with her four cats. When we met her she was tilling her land for a garden and literally pouring her life energy into it. She is currently learning the Algonquin language, practises Native spirituality in her daily life and has integrated herself in the First Nations culture in Ontario. Please join us as Noreen speaks passionately about her seven year journey on the Algonkin trail.

Enjoy our interview with Noreen and comments are always appreciated.

It Is All About The People

It Is All About The People

Today we are just east of Twillingate, Nl just west of Fogo Island.

We are almost at our half way mark (St. John’s, Newfoundland) of our lap around Canada and I would have to say it is filled with amazing people; and as far as I know none of them are famous sports figures, actors or politicians. Gary and I have had the unmistakable pleasure of being free from all media outlets and therefore have discovered many things about our part of the world in Canada and the people living here. Most people are good, kind, caring and honest folks.

Here is a glimpse into some of the people we have met.

In Napanee, Ontario, I randomly approached a guy on the street to ask directions to the tourist info centre and the next thing I knew, photographer Geoff Webster was offering to be our personal historical tour guide around the town. We spent a little over an hour with him and had the opportunity to meet his friend Holly who is a local jewelry designer and co-owns Frayed Around the Edges with her partner Ingrid, a clothing designer. Both Ingrid and Holly are strong advocates for buying handmade and buying local.

Historical Furniture Manufacturing Building in Napanee, Ontario

Lyn came up to Gary at the closed tourist info centre in Marmora, Ontario and asked if she could help him find something. He explained what we were doing and then without hesitation, Lyn invited us to stay at her mom’s cabin on Twin Sisters Lake about 15 minutes outside of town. We swam in the tepid water, enjoyed a scrumptious dinner and got to know a little bit about her and her family. Gary and I found out that her dad had passed away this past January and this was the first time her family and her mom had been to the cabin without him. He spent 30 years building the family cabin where Lyn and her sister grew up but unfortunately wasn’t able to fully complete it. What he did complete in his life time were a few volumes of wonderful family memories that will be his legacy for generations to come. I have to admit I was completely surprised after finding out about her father that Lyn would have invited us to stay but I am glad that she did as Gary and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. Thank you Lyn, Chris and Lois for adding another wonderful memory to our journey!

Twin Sisters Lake

In Peterborough, Ontario a nice man by the name of Jack rode his electric bicycle up to our picnic table. He came to admire Arty and stayed for about a half hour, regaling us with some of his life stories from the past 85 years. Jack was never a rich man but he always had what he wanted in life. He says you can have all that you want, just not all at the same time. Some good advice I’d say. He told us about the 58 cars he has owned over the years. Most of those he has bartered or traded for or found ways of acquiring without getting into debt or going to jail. As a matter of fact he tried to trade us a collection of antique clocks for Arty. His dream is to get his hands on a Westfalia and travel to Alaska.

In Sherbrooke, Quebec, Francesca accepted our CouchSurfing request even though she was super busy. She made us a wonderful squash soup with a roasted eggplant and feta cheese side dish and even hooked us up with an artist to interview in her area. When our stay was over she sent us on our way with a container of her delicious gourmet cupcakes. Crave Cupcakes, eat your heart out!

Amazing Fresco Mural in Downtown Sherbrooke

It has been our modus operandi on our trip to be last minute with our CouchSurfing requests because we don’t really know where we will be or when. CouchSurfing diva France from Edmundston, New Brunswick answered our call for a last minute couch. When we arrived at her home she greeted us and in the same breath was giving us instructions about the shower, internet WiFi and use of her hot tub as her and her daughter were running out the door to attend a family function. If we arrived a few minutes later we would have found a note stuck to the door with all the pertinent information. It is amazing how trusting people are! France told us later that it is better to think the best of people rather than the worst. When her and her daughter arrived home, we shared some laughs about gas station mishaps (ie. forgetting to pay and being surprised to see the police at your door) and some of her more colourful Couchsurfing guests. Although our time spent with France was brief, it definately was not without quality.

Purls Are This Girls Best Friend

Purls Are This Girls Best Friend

Typically when I think of knitting my mind conjures up an image of a sweet grandmother knitting a baby sweater for their newest grandchild. Of course there is nothing wrong with thinking this way, but then Gary and I met Mylene Lacroix (pronounced mee-len), gracious CouchSurfing host and knitter aficionado, who catapults all knitting sterotypes right out the window. She is a 35 year old single mom of 17 year old Jacob and is a police dispatcher by day or night (depending on her shift) and a knitter any other chance she gets.

Mylene has been knitting for 31 years. When she was 4 years old she took an interest in her mom’s knitting, and so her mom let Mylene give it a try. As the saying goes, she took to it like a fish takes to water and like a fish to water Mylene can’t live with out it. The name of her blog says it all, MiMi Must Knit. When she was 6 years old she started knitting her own Barbie Doll clothes and in grade 6 she knit her first sweater. Except for the “it’s not cool to knit when you are a teenager phase”, she’s been knitting ever since.

During one of our many conversations Mylene shared with us that knitting can be accomplished just about anywhere and it is an excellent use of idle time. She has knit at the doctor’s office, while sitting in traffic, at the movie theatre before the movie, or during depending on the movie, and visiting, as was the case while we were there. When Mylene packs her lunch for the day she always packs a knitting project to take along as there is always an opportunity to add a few extra stitches here and there. She has crafted countless wool toques, socks and mittens including the now famous “Bella mittens” from the series Twilight. She has outfitted herself in an extensive wardrobe of sweaters of all styles but she says socks are her favorite item to knit. Her other passion is travel and so when most people bring home souvenir trinkets from their journey, Mylene brings home souvenir wool and knits herself some fabulous socks. I think this is the coolest idea! The wool for her socks have come from all around the globe including a zingy coloured pair from Japan.

Mylene’s craftsmanship is of the highest quality. She uses the best raw material she can find and creates gorgeous apparel including some other functional items like a purse or a felted wool cover for a French Press. Her work is exquisite. I fell in love with the knitted lace shawls, the intricate patterned socks and the double thickness, brightly coloured wool mittens.

It is so nice to see someone so young helping to bring knitting back to life as it encourages other young people including children to take an interest in a skilled craft that could easily disappear one day. At first I thought Mylene was an old soul (and she probably is) when it comes to her intense passion for knitting, but she relayed to us that she is not alone. She pointed out a website called Ravelry that has over 1 million knit hungry members. This site is a bonanza for all things knit related. You name it and you can find it here, and if not then there are about 1 million people you could ask.

Sadly, Mylene typically only does projects she can give away to family or friends or if people ask her to knit something specific, like her hardest project to date, a christening gown. I think, like many fine artists and fine crafts people, Mylene knits for the love of it. As we have discovered talking to artists along our journey, it can be challenging to sell their work sometimes because the potential buyers don’t understand the extent of the labour and materials cost. Her socks are out of this world but trying to sell them at $30 per pair is ludicrous to many people. What they don’t know is that this works out to be about $2/hour in labour for Mylene. My way of thinking is that if we go back to the day when quality and longevity were king, buying socks at $30/pair and having them last for years is a great investment. Think of how much money we could all save over the long run. Although Mylene doesn’t create to sell, I’m sure she would love to talk about and teach knitting until the sheep come home for shearing.

Colours Run Deep in Donna Bonin’s Paintings

Colours Run Deep in Donna Bonin’s Paintings

Sometimes things have a way of working out. We were in Stirling, Ontario at the fairground parking lot about to have dinner when a parade of vehicles started showing up for a soccer match, including a guy named Bill with his two daughters in their 1978 VW Bus. Of course, having commonality right off the bat can easily open the Vanagon door for conversation which led Bill to call his friend Jack, a sculptor in Belleville. Gary talked to Jack briefly and the next thing we knew we had an artist to interview. The day before I had e-mailed a lady just outside of Stirling about an interview but we hadn’t heard from her yet, so we were off to Belleville.

When we arrived Jack was nowhere to be found but in the meantime Donna Bonin had e-mailed back and so it was meant to be that we were to go back toward Stirling to interview Donna in Oak Lake. She has one of two year round residences situated on the lake. Her’s is a charming century old country home. This is where she lives, works and plays. I use the word “work” loosely as Donna never gave us the impression that her art resembled any kind of mundane work in the 9 to 5 sense. As a matter of fact, the day we were to arrive she was to be captain of the boat for some waterskiing fun in the afternoon.

Please click on the thumbnail images below to see a large aspect.

Donna invited us to sit in one of her many Back-In-Time Gallery rooms where we got to know some things about her and her incredible watercolour paintings. Donna has been painting for most of her life but watercolour has been a recent journey that began in 1998. Around this time her physical health changed and this prompted her to try something different, and so began the watercolour chapter of her life. One of the first things Gary and I noticed in Donna’s paintings was the intensity of colour. Not being familiar with watercolour, I always assumed this medium was characteristically muted and subtle. Donna shared with us that often the brand of paint can be a factor but more than anything it is the time she takes putting layer upon layer of paint to her canvass. Sometimes she will let an incomplete painting calmly sit on its own as she looks at it periodically with fresh eyes. The painting tells her what it needs or doesn’t need when the time is right. She says, if the way you want to change or add something to the painting doesn’t significantly enhance it than just leave it alone. It can take up to several months for Donna to decide when her painting is complete.


Donna’s subject matter is incredibly varied as well. She has traveled all around the world and has been inspired to paint many different things. She loves nature and animals and has painted a range of things from the landscape in her own back yard to buildings in Europe and settings in the high Arctic. She says there is nothing she wouldn’t try as each painting brings with it a collection of new ideas and creativity. She even enjoys her own version of abstract which she calls fantasy. The paintings in this category remain partially representative of something that has caught Donna’s imagination. She might paint it from a different angle or in a different plane from what our eyes register as the comfortable orientation.

We concluded our interview with a self-guided tour of the rest of Donna’s gallery. Our observation was that she is an accomplished painter in the eyes of her peers, her students, her buyers and people, like us, seeing her work for the very first time.

We welcome you to leave a comment for Donna.

Up Close With Photographer Julian Hall

Up Close With Photographer Julian Hall

One could walk by an old farm implement a thousand times and never give it a second look, or for that matter just about any “mundane” object that is regarded as just “being there” and not offering any hope of interaction or thought in our everyday life. Julian Hall’s photography has enabled those objects to come alive and demand attention, showing the beauty and intrigue that they possess through both a macroscopic lens and thought provoking composition in a context that makes you think, “I’ve never looked at it that way before.” The character lines, textures and colours of an old tractor, the grain of a piece of wood, or even the contrast between nature and man-made objects are just a few of Julian’s photographic endeavours.


Julian’s subject matter is certainly influenced by his surroundings, and his work has surged with new purpose and excitement since arriving at Kind Organics, an organic farm where he works as a manager helping to bring to the farmer’s markets yummy greens, herbs, edible flowers and salad blends that we had a chance to try. We caught up with Julian at the farm, just west of Newmarket, Ontario, where he gave us a tour of this dynamic operation as well as meeting the current WWOOFers that were working on the farm upon our arrival. We also met the owners Tamas, Sandra and their son Sasha, who out of the blue, generously gave us a loonie towards the care for our cat Marli. A true cat lover after our own hearts!


Click on the thumbnails below to expand the images and your senses!

Julian became interested in photography at a very young age. His father was a photographer, and so from within the dark room where images would appear “magically” from the trays of developer chemicals, a lifelong passion was borne.


Julian’s composition is one of tactile imagery, creating photographs that bear the texture and colour more reminiscent of an oil painting. Composed through the lens of his camera, and certainly evidenced by his work, Julian is seeing the world around him in parts, or focused areas, rather than always as a whole. This characteristic is akin, in the visual sense, to “stopping to smell the roses,” gaining an appreciation for the minute details and not allowing peripheral vision to gloss over his surroundings.


Julian’s photos tell a story about his subject matter, and can invoke feelings of nostalgia and wonder such as with the old farm implements, or even pique curiousity such as with the macroscopic images. For me personally, Julian’s photography is a metaphor for slowing down, appreciating the small, simpler things in life, and not allowing the fast paced world to blur our vision of what really is important: something, someone or somewhere that is right there in front of us. Thanks Julian!

Stained Glass Artist Emily Hyatt

Stained Glass Artist Emily Hyatt

Our foray into Minnesota was short and was really only a quick passage to the furthest southwestern corner of Ontario where we were in hot pursuit of finding an artist to interview right off the bat. It was not until Barwick, Ontario where we found Emily Hyatt. It was funny how we found her. We stopped to look around the little community of about one hundred residents. Our luck with places to park ourselves and Arty for the night wasn’t working out so well at the point of our stop and so we decided to move on. As we turned back onto the highway, I looked over and noticed the blue plastic outhouse and then Gary saw some picnic tables. We discussed whether or not we should turn around until we reached the outskirts of town and decided it might be worth a look. It turns out we found ourselves looking at the “District of Chapple Complimentary Campground” sign which even included nice cold fresh water and electricity. What a glorious find!

Our other glorious find was walking into the local restaurant to inquire about artists in Barwick and having two nice ladies point us in the direction of Emily Hyatt, the local stained glass artist. They helpfully told us where we could find her and off we went to introduce ourselves. We met Norm, Emily’s husband, who regretfully delivered the news that Emily was away at a workshop in Miami, Manitoba. Norm invited us in and gave us a quick tour of some of Emily’s work and we decided it was worth our while to wait for her return. This was on Saturday, so on Sunday we had a great opportunity to catch up on some work and on Monday we went to see Emily.

Click on the images below to view a large aspect.

Emily took her first stained glass course 32 years ago and has been looking through rose coloured glass ever since. Her desire to pursue the art of stained glass came out of a need to balance a demanding job. She fell in love with the colours, the possibilities and the people. She began working with artist Wayne Barron who is another local talented artist in the Barwick area. He used to teach with Norm at the school. Over the years Emily and Wayne have collaborated on many projects including 35 church windows and a memorial piece for Emily’s parents; Wayne does the design work and Emily brings it to life with the glass. The church windows are commissioned by individuals or families who want to commemorate or honour someone they love. Gary and I stopped to see the ten windows in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Emo as well as the one in the Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Frances.

Church Window

Like many artists, Emily is humble about her work and feels there is always so much more to learn. She does say that her particular talent lies in picking the colours of glass for a project. She sets the panes of glass in the windows of her studio to watch how the light hits them at all hours of the day. Sometimes the glass will dictate the next project or it will present itself as the perfect choice for a project or commission that she has already been thinking about. For Emily, sometimes this pondering and looking could take up to 2 years before any cutting and shaping even begin.

Fused Glass Bowl


Emily’s other talent lies in teaching her skills to other enthusiastic proteges. She loves to see that sparkle in their eye’s and know that they too caught the glass bug that she caught long ago. I would love to take a class from her someday!

After we finished chatting with Emily, we were invited to join her for a salmon sandwich, some tortilla chips with homemade salsa, yummy carrot cupcakes and some ice cream with fresh picked raspberries from their garden. Norm arrived home from a hard day at the golf course and we all enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a visit from a pair of Baltimore Orioles (the birds not the ball players). They are stunningly beautiful with their deep orange breast. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Emily and Norm and hope to go back someday for a visit and perhaps a little stained glass lesson for me.

Mosaic Bench

We welcome you to leave a comment for Emily!